Edinburgh International Book Festival: Still Reinforcing Cultural Femicide

I think its fairly self-evident that I love reading; certainly anyone who follows me on twitter is bombarded daily with my witterings on my favourite books. I also love the Edinburgh International Book Festival but, every year, I am disappointed by how white male-centric the festival is. This year is no different. I complained here about the official catalogue which made it pretty self-evident how few women would be speaking at the Festival; and, of that small number of women, how many were children’s authors. I love children’s literature but women don’t just write books for toddlers and teenagers. 

For a variety of reasons, yesterday was the first chance I’ve had to attend the Book Festival. I’d like to say I was surprised by the obvious display of cultural femicide but I wasn’t. The vast majority of pictures of authors on display were male. In the bookstores, the vast majority of books on the special displays and tables were by men; including the children’s bookstore. 

Now, I’m sure that the staff didn’t consciously make the decision to prioritise men’s writing but that’s how insidious cultural femicide is.  The privileging of men’s writing frequently happens at an unconscious level and is reinforced through the media and academia. The Book Festival’s choice to hang mostly photos of male authors may seem a small point but it’s the accumulation of such small decisions which harms women’s writing. It is just as problematic as literature departments in universities only using one or two novels by women a course so as not to alienate male students. It’s obviously not a problem to alienate the women students who, frequently, make up the majority of literature students in all languages.

The Festival’s continuing privileging of male writers just reinforces the notion that women’s writing is gender-specific and that fucks me off no end. As ever, I will fill in the comments box at the Festival [and the subsequent surveys] pointing out the erasure of women’s writing but I don’t expect things to change any time soon. After all, it would take someone seriously brave and radical to overhaul the Edinburgh Book Festival so it includes more than white men. I’m doing my part by only buying tickets to women writers and only buying books written by women.

These are the books I bought yesterday:

  • Lisa O’Donnell’s The Death of Bees
  • Monique Roffey’s With the Kisses of His Mouth: A Memoir
  • Pat Barker’s Union Street
  • Scarlett Thomas’ Popco
  • Scarlett Thomas’ The End of Mr Y
  • Lisa Cacho’s Slavery Inc. The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking
  • Catherine Rayner’s Sylvia and Bird
  • Catherine Rayner’s Ernest
  • Sue Hendra’s Barry the Fish With Fingers and the Hairy Scary Monster
  • Kristina Stephenson’s Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the Tale of the Terrible Secret
The only author of adult books I’ve read before Monique Roffey’s The White Woman on The Green Bicycle which is a bloody brilliant book. We already own all of Kristina Stephenson’s Sir Charlie StinkySocks books and have seen her at the book festival in previous years. They are fab books.

2 thoughts on “Edinburgh International Book Festival: Still Reinforcing Cultural Femicide”

  1. I think you’re being a tad unfair. The EBF has never struck me as being a last bastion of the patriarchy – in fact from from it.

    Just to check I ran through the first 200 contributors to the EBF that’s listed here http://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/whats-on/appearing-this-festival. From these two hundred 126 are men and 74 are women, a ratio of about 1.7 men per 1 woman

    OK that isn’t equality, but given that the EBF draws it’s contributors from public life generally, and like it or not there’s more men than women in public life at the moment, I’d say that ratio is at least reflective of that, and in fact is probably biased towards representing women.


  2. I find the “there are more men in public life” argument a copout. Women buy more books than men. Women read more books than men and women are far more likely to buy books for presents than men. That’s without acknowledging just how many women are involved in the scut work of the publishing industry. The fact that the EIBF consistently has more male authors than women and spends far more time advertising those authors is about sexism. It is the reinforcement of women’s marginalisation from culture. It is cultural femicide.

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